• Pierce County woman sentenced for stealing thousands from grandfather with dementia

    By: John Knicely

    Updated:

    Jessica Sellers broke down in tears in a Tacoma courtroom Wednesday as she learned her fate for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from her dementia-impaired grandfather.

    A judge sentenced her to just over two years in prison after prosecutors laid out the laundry list of cars, vacations, and home improvements she spent the money on.

    “Mr. Penz had over $300,000 in his bank account,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Carly Roberts.  “By the time Ms. Sellers was caught he was down to just over $100,000.”

    Jessica Sellers was given power of attorney in 2006 over her husband's grandfather, Ralph Penz, when he was diagnosed with dementia. 

    She pleaded guilty in October to using his account as her own for more than eight years.

    The prosecutor listed purchases. “An expensive Honda, over $3,700 from Home Depot and over $6,000 in home improvements,” Roberts said.  “Spent money on vacations to Hawaii, Ocean Shores, Lake Chelan.”

    And the list kept going.

    Sellers’ sister-in-law, Carmen Taharge, eventually caught on and turned her in.  Penz has since died.

    “The impact this has had on me is emotionally devastating,” Taharge said.  “Family really was the most important thing for him and I believe it would've broke his heart to know that my brother Travis and his wife, who he trusted, took advantage of him.”

    For her part, Sellers said she looked at it as a loan she intended to pay back.  She said she loved her grandfather and took good care of him.

    “I just want to say I'm very sorry,” Sellers said.  

    “I took care of Ralph for 10 years. 

    I never had any intent to deprive him or hurt him. 

    I know I made very poor choices.”

    There is some dispute as to how much money was stolen.  Sellers’ attorney said their figure is closer to $82,000 while her family says it’s well over $200,000. 

    Sellers has paid back $28,000 and the judge will determine how much more she must repay at a later date.

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